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Eric's World


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Since that night, I had been consumed with how to tell Eric. Ann had tried to keep our son from seeing the news on TV. At seven, he was reading parts of newspapers, but Ann didn't think he had seen the story. Everyone in my unit was very helpful, especially the cops. None of them dwelled on the incident, but, to a man, they told me that if I needed to talk they'd listen. My head still buzzed and I felt nausea when I thought of that night, my heart rate rising more from the memory than it had during the event. One of the shrinks I worked with on the CISD team had called and listened while, oscillating between giddy relief and guilt, I tried to straighten out what had happened. He told me that the roof would fall in on me later and that the worst thing I could do when it fell was to withdraw.

The news coverage had been steady; most of the reporting was about the boy and his family's grief. His parents couldn't fathom why he and I had met that late summer evening. When the television talent mentioned me, they simply regurgitated my record; none of them asked what that night cost me. On the advice of a JAG representative, I made no statements to the press. News cycles are short, and at least I was old news by the time we came home. Everyone I was with seemed to be looking at me with a curiosity normally reserved for celebrities. More than occasionally, I wanted to scream to them that this was no cause for celebration. At the Reserve Center, after the company commander read the demobilization order and we were released from active duty, I was finally alone for the long drive to my home. I was raw and felt exposed in the company of others, but solitude no longer brought comfort.

Senses behave differently under stress. Hearing, smell, vision all betray their normal occupations. I was in one of a few Reserve MP Companies that housed a CID detachment, but that night one of the patrol MPs wasn't feeling well and I agreed to stand in. Wearing a uniform once in a while is useful. At that time we still patrolled in Jeeps. Our unit alternated summer active duty between regular army bases and National Guard camps, and this year we were at a Guard camp. Most of the problems we encountered involved drinking and driving or traffic infractions. I was standing in on the night tour.

I had told Eric over his whole life that violence solved nothing, that he should avoid fighting because people who solved differences by fighting revealed their own weakness. What would I tell him now that would make sense of this mess? My partner and I were one of two mobile patrols that night. We were checking a couple of warehouses when we saw the flicker of flashlights at the end of one of the buildings. We pulled up to the warehouse front and radioed to the other mobile unit. We quietly walked away from the lights and around the opposite end of the building. We could hear laughter as we approached the lights. My partner swung out wide and I hugged the wall. Two and a half minutes.

I had walked into a burglary. I drew my sidearm and was about to put the three men on their knees when my partner screamed, "Gun!"

Two of the three ran. We let them go. I don't remember screaming at the kid to drop his weapon, although my partner said later that I had, repeatedly. I was looking him in the eye and saw hesitation on his face as I closed with him in the dim light. Then, I saw him make a decision. He started to raise his weapon. The kid didn't hear the reports as the slide on my M-1911A snapped back twice before he fell, eyes open, along with my brass.

I pulled into my driveway and Ann and Eric came out to greet me. Ann looked as if she might cry as Eric jumped into my arms and hugged me. When I put him down. He looked up at me and said, "Daddy, Christopher said you killed someone."

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How can you convey dreadful information about personal culpability to an innocent? A dilemma made all the more intense when that innocent is someone whose expectations are based on ideals you have provided and emphasized and embraced.

The terrible truth of this raw piece of flash fiction is that it foreshadows an even longer, even more difficult narrative whose outcome can only chronicle a relationship that is changed forever.

Scary stuff.


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I used to rush around shooting everyone in sight and got shot myself at least a thousand times a day - oddly, I was always shot in the arm, as I could carry on and not have to sit the rest of the game out. Later, and with unbounded stupidity, two of us used to dress up in padded clothes and have at it with BB guns. Hindsight says we were lucky kids not to end up maimed in hospital.

The thing is I'm from England. Guns here are rare - though getting less so - and so their actual effects aren't as 'real' to me. Eric's World' burrowed under my skin and I've been thinking about it and consequences, on and off, ever since. It is powerful for a flash, and sentences like 'His parents couldn't fathom why he and I had met that late summer evening.' could, perhaps should, be stories in themselves.


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